THE OTHER NIGHT I had a dream that I was sitting on the sidewalk on Moody Street, Pawtucketville, Lowell, Mass., with a pencil and paper in my hand saying to myself ‘describe the wrinkly tar of this sidewalk, also the iron pickets of Textile Institute, or the doorway where Lousy and you and G.J.’s always sittin and dont stop to think of words when you do stop, just stop to think of the picture better –and let your mind off yourself in this work.
Just before that I was coming down the hill between Gershom Avenue and that spectral street where Billy Artaud used to live, towards Blezan’s corner store, where on Sundays the fellows stand in bestsuits after church smoking, spitting, Leo Martin saying to Sonny Alberge or Joe Plouffe, “Eh, bat”ge, ya faite un grand sarman s’foi icite” –(“Holy Batchism, he made a long sermon this time”) and Joe Plouffe, prognathic, short, glidingly powerful, spits into the large pebblestones of Gershom paved and walks on home for breakfast with no comment (he lived with his sisters and brothers and mother because the old man had thrown em all out–”Let my bones melt in this rain!”–to live a hermit existence in the darkness of his night–rheumy red-eyed old sickmonster scrooge of the block)–
Doctor Sax I first saw in his earlier lineaments in the early Catholic childhood of Centralville–deaths, funerals, the shroud of that, the dark figure in the corner when you look at the dead man coffin in the dolorous parlor of the open house with a horrible purple wreath on the door. Figures of coffinbearers emerging from a house on a rainy night bearing a box with dead old Mr. Yipe inside. The statue of Ste. Th”r’se turning her head in an antique Catholic twenties film with Ste. Therese dashing across town in a car with W.C. Fieldsian close shaves by the young religious hero while the doll (not Ste. Therese herself but the lady hero symbolic thereof) heads for her saintliness with wide eyes of disbelief. We had a statue of Ste. Therese in my house–on West Street I saw it turn its head at me–in the dark. Earlier, too, horrors of the Jesus Christ of passion plays in his shrouds and vestments of saddest doom mankind in the Cross Weep for Thieves and Poverty–he was at the foot of my bed pushing it one dark Saturday night (on Hildreth & Lilley secondfloor flat full of Eternity outside)–either He or the Virgin Mary stooped with phosphorescent profile and horror pushing my bed. That same night an elfin, more cheery ghost of some Santa Claus kind rushed up and slammed my door; there was no wind; my sister was taking a bath in the rosy bathroom of Saturday night home, and my mother scrubbing her back or tuning Wayne King on the old mahogany radio or glancing at the top Maggie and Jiggs funnies just come in from wagon boys outside (same who rushed among the downtown redbricks of my Chinese mystery) so I called out “Who slammed my door (Qui a farmez ma parte?)” and they said nobody (“Parsonne voyons donc“)–and I knew I was haunted but said nothing; not long after that I dreamed the horrible dream of the rattling red livingroom, newly painted a strange 1929 varnish red and I saw it in the dream all dancing and rattling like skeletons because my brother Gerard haunted them and dreamed I woke up screaming by the phonograph machine in the adjoining room with its Masters Voice curves in the brown wood– Memory and dream are intermixed in this mad universe.
IN THE DREAM of the wrinkly tar corner I saw it, hauntingly, Riverside Street as it ran across Moody and into the fabulously rich darknesses of Sarah Avenue and Rosemont the Mysterious ” Rosemont:–community built in the floodable river flats and also on gentle slopes uprising that to the foot of the sandbank, the cemetery meadows and haunted ghostfields of Luxy Smith hermits and Mill Pond so mad–in the dream I only fancied the first steps from that “Wrinkly tar,” right around the corner, views of Moody Street Lowell–arrowing to the City Hall Clock (with time) and downtown red antennas and Chinese restaurant Kearney Square neons in the Massachusetts Night; then a glance to the right at Riverside Street running off to hide itself in the rich respectaburban wildhouses of Fraternity presidents of textile (O!–) and oldlady Whitehairs landladies, the street suddenly emerging from this Americana of lawns and screens and Emily Dickinson hidden schoolteachers behind lace blinds into the raw drama of the river where the land, the New England rockyland of high-bluffs dipped to kiss the lip of Merrimac in his rushing roars over tumult and rock to the sea, fantastic and mysterious from the snow North, goodbye;–walked to the left, passed the holy doorway where G.J. and Lousy and I hung sitting in the mystery which I now see hugens, huger, into something beyond my Grook, beyond my art & Pale, into the secret of what God has done with my time;–tenement standing on the wrinkly tar corner, four stories high, with a court, washlines, clothespins, flies drumming in the sun (I dreamed I lived in that tenement, cheap rent, good view, rich furniture, my mother glad, my father “off playing cards’ or maybe just dumbly sitting in a chair agreeing with us, the dream)– And the last time I was in Massachusetts I stood in the cold winter night watching the Social Club and actually seeing Leo Martin breathing winter fogs cut in for aftersupper game of pool like when I was small, and also noticing the corner tenement because the poor Canucks my people of my God-gave-me-life were burning dull electric lights in a brown doom gloom of kitchen with Catholic calendar in the toilet door (Ah Me), a sight full of sorrow and labor–the scenes of my childhood– In the doorway G.J., Gus J. Rigopoulos, and I, Jackie Duluoz, local sandlot sensation and big punk; and Lousy, Albert Lauzon, the Human Cave-In (he had a Cave-In chest), the Kid Lousy, World’s Champion Silent Spitter and also sometimes Paul Boldieu our pitcher and grim driver of later jaloppy limousines of adolescent whim–
“Take note, take note, well of them take note,” I’m saying to myself in the dream, “when you pass the doorway look very close at Gus Rigopoulos, Jackie Duluoz and Lousy.”
I see them now on Riverside Street in the waving high dark.
THERE ARE HUNDREDS of people strolling in the street, in the dream ” it’s Sanurday sun Night, they’re all roshing to the Clo-Sol– Downtown, in real restaurants of reality, my mother and father, like shadows on a menu card sitting by a shadow-grill window with 1920’s drapes hanging heavy behind them, all an ad, saying “Thank you, call again to dine and dance at Ron Foo’s 467 Market Street Rochester,” –they’re eating at Chin Lee’s, he’s an old friend of the family’s, he knew me, gave us lichee nut for Christmas, one time a great Ming pot (placed on dark piano of parlor glooms and angels in dust veils with doves, the Catholicity of the swarming dust, and my thoughts); it’s Lowell, outside the decorated chink windows is Kearney Square teeming with life. “By Gosh,” says my father patting his belly, “that was a good meal.”
Step softly, ghost.
FOLLOW THE GREAT RIVERS on the maps of South America (origin of Doctor Sax), trace your Putumayos to a Napo-further Amazonian junction, map the incredible uncrossable jungles, the southern Para”as of amaze, stare at the huge grook of a continent bulging with an Arctic-Antarctic –to me the Merrimac River was a mighty Napo of continental importance ” the continent of New England. She fed from some snakelike source with maws approach and wide, welled from the hidden dank, came, named Merrimac, into the winding Weirs and Franklin Falls, the Win-nepesaukies (of Nordic pine) (and Albatrossian grandeur), the Manchesters, Concords, Plum Islands of Time.
The thunderous husher of our sleep at night–
I could hear it rise from the rocks in a groaning wush ululating with the water, sprawlsh, sprawlsh, oom, oom, zoooo, all night long the river says zooo, zooo, the stars are fixed in rooftops like ink. Merrimac, dark name, sported dark valleys: my Lowell had the great trees of antiquity in the rocky north waving over lost arrowheads and Indian scalps, the pebbles on the slatecliff beach are full of hidden beads and were stepped on barefoot by Indians. Merrimac comes swooping from a north of eternities, falls pissing over locks, cracks and froths on rocks, bloth, and rolls frawing to the kale, calmed in dewpile stone holes slaty sharp (we dove off, cut our feet, summer afternoon stinky hookies), rocks full of ugly old suckers not fit to eat, and crap from sewage, and dyes, and you swallowed mouthfuls of the chokeful water– By moonlight night I see the Mighty Merrimac foaming in a thousand white horses upon the tragic plains below. Dream:–wooden sidewalk planks of Moody Street Bridge fall out, I hover on beams over rages of white horses in the roaring low,–moaning onward, armies and cavalries of charging Euplantus Eu-dronicus King Grays loop’d & curly like artists’ work, and with clay souls’ snow curlicue rooster togas in the fore front.
I had a terror of those waves, those rocks–
Doctor Sax lived in the woods, he was no city shroud. I see him stalking with the incredible Jean Fourchette, woodsman of the dump, idiot, giggler, toothless-broken-brown, searched, sniggerer at fires, loyal beloved companion of long childhood walks– The tragedy of Lowell and the Sax Snake is in the woods, the world around–
In the fall there were great sere brown sidefields sloping down to the Merrimac all rich with broken pines and browns, fall, the whistle was just shrilled to end the third quarter in the wintry November field where crowds and me and father stood watching scuffling uproars of semipro afternoons like in the days of old Indian Jim Thorpe, boom, touchdown. There were deer in the Billerica woods, maybe one or two in Dracut, three or four in Tyngsboro, and a hunter’s corner in the Lowell Sun sports page. Great serried cold pines of October morning when school’s re-started and the apples are in, stood naked in the northern gloom waiting for denudement. In the winter the Merrimac River flooded in its ice; except for a narrow strip in the middle where ice was fragile with crystals of current the whole swingaround basin of Rosemont and the Aiken Street Bridge was laid flat for winter skating parties that could be observed from the bridge with a snow telescope in the gales and along the Lakeview side dump minor figures of Netherlander snowscapes are marooning in the whorly world of pale white snow. A blue saw cracks down across the ice. Hockey games devour the fire where the girls are huddled, Billy Artaud with clenched teeth is smashing the opponent’s hockey stick with a kick of spiked shoes in the fiendish glare of winter fighting days, I’m going backwards in a circle at forty miles an hour trailing the puck till I lose it on a bounce and the other Artaud brothers are rushing up pellmell in a clatter of Dit Clappers to roar into the fray–
This the same raw river, poor river, March melts, brings Doctor Sax and the rainy nights of the Castle.
Excerpt from Doctor Sax
Copyright ” 1959 by Jack Kerouac.